Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 4 No. 3, January 20, 2003
Copyright © 2002, NCI, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - James Furlong
Editor - Leo King

A weekly North American rail and transit update


Senate okays $1.2 billion for Amtrak;
McCain reluctantly agrees to amendment

By Wes Vernon and Leo King

As snow swirled outside the Senate, the solons inside passed an amendment to its omnibus spending bill to fund Amtrak at $1.2 billion. Even Amtrak foe Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) reluctantly agreed to the measure Thursday (January 16). Now it goes to a House-Senate conference committee.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) introduced a floor amendment, which would restore necessary funding necessary to bring the total up to $1.2 billion.

In floor debate, which began in the early evening, Murray, 52, told her colleagues, the amendment “would boost Amtrak funding to the level that was included in the transportation appropriations bill that was reported back in July of Last year. Six months ago, the Appropriations Committee unanimously reported a bill that funded Amtrak at the level of $1.2 billion. That is the same level that was requested by the Amtrak board of directors.”

The senator, now in her second term, said without her amendment’s passage, it would result in $374 million less than the Congress approved last July.

“It also means a $318 million cut, or a 27 percent cut below the level the railroad received in fiscal year 2002.”

She added she was sure no other federal program had been singled out for a cut that large, and “at this funding level, there is no question Amtrak is heading straight for bankruptcy – and that is not a debatable point.”

She cited a letter from Amtrak CEO David Gunn stating that Amtrak would begin shutting down next spring if the funding bill failed. She also cited USDOT Inspector General Kenneth Mead who concluded “The budget request was, indeed, flawed.… that it was $12 million too low.”

Other legislators spoke on behalf of Amtrak, citing its usefulness, including Sens. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings (D-S.C.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), James Jeffords (I-Vt.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Dick Durban (D-Ill.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Joe Biden (D-Del.) The only senator to speak ill of Amtrak was Arizona’s McCain, who, in the end, did not block nor oppose the measure.

New Jersey’s Lautenberg returned to the Senate after a two-year retirement, and was assigned seats on committees that oversee commerce and government affairs. As a member of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Lautenberg will have a say in several issues of importance to New Jersey, including Amtrak, the Coast Guard and highway safety. He replaced controversial Democratic Sen. Robert Torricelli on the November New Jersey ballot.

McCain, 66, said, “Frankly, this issue of Amtrak , to me, has been one of complete frustration. I say that because time after time after time, until the present administrator of Amtrak became the head of Amtrak, Mr. Gunn, with those who ran this organization, which was put together in 1973, I believe, and was committed to being financially independent within three years, there has been an endless drain of resources, an endless series of frustrations, and a continuous battle, which goes on as we speak.”

McCain, a two-term House member before being elected to the Senate in 1986, argued that the Congress is subsidizing long distance trains like the now-canceled Lake Country Limited, “at a cost of $1,218.45 per passenger. You could charter an airplane and fly these passengers from one place to the other rather than pay $1,200.”

He cited other figures for other trains, including the Sunset Limited at $347.45; the Pennsylvanian, $292.34; and Three Rivers, $244.99 per passenger. He did not say from where he got the numbers.

He said he was pleased that Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) “who, in negotiations, as this bill goes into conference, will insist that we come up with a reform plan. I am encouraged, I am exuberant that Mr. Gunn has taken control, and already, as my friend from South Carolina [Sen. Hollings) has pointed out, has made some very tough decisions and increased efficiency rather dramatically.”

The senator noted that “If I sound a bit cynical, it is because we have not been told the truth” by former Amtrak CEO George Warrington, “but I do believe that Mr. Gunn has. Mr. Gunn's straight talk has been refreshing.” McCain did not name Warrington, but made an oblique reference to Gunn’s “predecessor.”

Sen. Joe Biden said another battle regarding Amtrak lay ahead, and he looked forward to debating a proposed $2-billion-plus Gunn said he would need next year.

Earlier, Amtrak’s Gunn again warned that if Amtrak is “nickeled-and-dimed” by Congress, a shutdown would soon follow.

The CEO met with Senator Murray and gave her a summary of what he had done in his eight-month stewardship to “stabilize Amtrak’s operations and finances and to bring tight new fiscal controls to bear on the company.”

Gunn said he “repeated my concern that federal funding substantially less than $1.2 billion in Fiscal Year 2003 will take us right back to the near-shutdown we experienced last summer.”

Without Murray’s amendment to restore Amtrak funding to the $1.2 billion “that is necessary to maintain service,” Gunn said, “Amtrak will have no other choice but an orderly shutdown of all service this spring or sooner. The funding level in the bill as it currently stands offers no other alternative but an orderly shutdown of all Amtrak service.”

Gunn, unlike some of his predecessors, has been telling Congress up front what it takes to run the system. McCain acknowledged that point several times in Thursday evening’s funding debate.

Take or leave it, Gunn appeared to be saying; he’ll not be rearranging the chairs on the Titanic or anything on the order of mortgaging Penn Station just to pay for groceries, so to speak. This is what it costs to run the railroad, he said – and he won’t blink.

Friday morning, Gunn was so elated with the outcome he sent a message to employees stating, “I appreciate Commerce Committee Chairman McCain's comments last night and his desire to run a better railroad. We're making progress, but we've all got a lot more work ahead of us.”

Gunn added, “As for the legislation, once the House and Senate have agreed to the same bill, it will go to the President to be signed. That could happen in the next one or two weeks, but no one really knows. We do know that at some point in time Congress will have to resolve the difference between the House’s intention to fund us at $762 million and the Senate's action to fund us at $1.2 billion. I will keep you posted on any more developments.”

So will D:F.


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USDOT, FRA expected the worst

Even the USDOT and the FRA expected the worst for Amtrak’s future.

Late Thursday afternoon, the agencies published a gloomy press release which stated, “At a meeting of commuter rail operators in Washington, D.C., Federal Railroad Administrator Allan Rutter today released the following statement in response to Amtrak’s threatened service shutdown should Congress appropriate less than $1.2 billion in funding.”

FRA, like Amtrak, is a component of USDOT.

“Secretary Mineta and I remain firmly committed to commuter and intercity passenger rail in America. However, as the Administration has long said, without reform, Amtrak will fail to meet the nation’s future passenger needs.

“Through its representation on Amtrak’s Board of Directors, the Administration has consistently cautioned Amtrak to develop contingencies in the likely event Congress appropriates less than the requested FY03 $1.2 billion appropriation. Yet despite that caution and the Administration’s ongoing opposition to a $1.2 billion operating budget, Amtrak operations continue at this spending level.

“At its next Board meeting, which is scheduled for next Thursday, we will work with the board of directors to take advantage of the opportunity to assess alternatives to allow for operations within the Congressional appropriation.

“In the meantime, Secretary Mineta continues to work with commuter rail agencies to identify steps to preserve their services should Amtrak find itself operationally constrained in the short term.”


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Freight railroads seem to be taking a different
stance when it comes to getting money, ‘Tea-21’

By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

The freight railroads seem to be taking a different stance when it come to getting money, and its view toward a renewed Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) bill in Congress.

Edward Hamberger, the Washington voice of the freight railroad industry, said several days ago his bosses in the Class I board rooms are ready to participate in the big “Tea-21” authorization bill later this year by engaging in “public-private partnerships,” interpreted as being a euphemism for yes. After resistance all these years, they seem to be ready to accept federal subsidies, assuming they benefit both freight and passenger train service. In the December issue of Railway Age, all the Class I CEOs were singing from the same songbook on that issue.

In his January 10 speech before the Transportation Table at the National Press Club, Hamberger said the sometimes “iffy” railroad relationship with the trucking industry last year cooperated on intermodal service to take 9.3 million trucks off the road. His point is that America’s freight rail industry is doing its part to relieve traffic congestion and air pollution.

Just as the Chinese calendar is winding up the “Year of the Horse,” Hamberger optimistically predicted next year will be “the Year of the Iron Horse – the Year of the Railroad. I say that not only for freight but also for passenger,” the Association of American Railroads (AAR) boss proclaimed.

“Even today as our highways and cities are congested and the environment gets worse,” Hamberger explained, “people are looking to use rail as DOT predicts that freight will double between now and the year 2020,” because people “will look to rail… to address the social issues of congestion and a cleaner environment.”

He cited government figures which he said clearly prove that “we are cleaner” than trucks or barges. Moreover, United Parcel Service had switched much of its business from air to rail, which Hamberger sees as a sincere endorsement of freight rail’s efficiency, coming from a time-sensitive client.

The AAR executive also referenced a report from the American Public Transit Assn. (APTA) which “shows how congestion and pollution would be improved if we could just get more commuters out of the cars [and onto] public transit, including commuter rails.” AAR’s own study showed similar benefits in shifting more freight traffic to the rail side, he added.

“America would be a better place,” he said, “if we had more people and more freight moving by rail.”

That gets to the question of capacity.

First thing Hamberger wants Washington’s policymakers to remember is to “do no harm,” to borrow a phrase from the Hippocratic oath.

“Congress and the Administration have to remember that the freight railroads are privately owned and maintained, and yet we also have the honor of paying taxes on our rights of way to our state and local governments.” Though Hamberger did not spell it out, cities, states or other public authorities use tax dollars to fund highways and airports, while the railroads continue to occupy their traditional position as cash cows for the local treasury, all the while contributing to the local and state economies. The AAR boss apparently decided not to go there at this time, preferring to dwell on the business at hand: Tea-21 and those “public-private partnerships.”

“Public-private partnerships” however, should not open the floodgates for “reregulating the rail industry,” nor “taking away our opportunity to have differential pricing to try to earn our cost of capital,” which he pegged at 16.1 percent “of all revenues that the industry has earned, actually plowed back into the industry.” That is about four times the average of similar costs in other industries throughout United States.

Expect the AAR to put up a stiff fight against any efforts by truckers to persuade Congress to “increase the size of trucks or the weight that trucks can carry” on America’s highway system.

Any “public-private partnership” should be of mutual benefit and should not force the rail freight carriers – who own most of the tracks used by the passenger trains – to suffer losses in order to accommodate that passenger traffic.

“Do not give commuter rails forced access onto the freight-owned rights of way,” is AAR’s message to Congress and state authorities.

“We’ve worked with local communities to make sure that we can provide capacity to move commuters, but at the same time, we have an obligation to our customers, our shareholders and our employees to make sure that we have enough capacity to move America’s freight.”

It goes without saying, Hamberger added, that the freight railroads need to keep the money from their 4.3-cent so-called “deficit-reduction” fuel tax, which the railroads pay into the U.S. Treasury while competing modes get it invested back into their industries.

D:F asked Hamberger how taking federal money from Tea-21 squares with the freight railroads’ traditional independence from more federal dictates, given that the courts over the years have said, in effect, “Whose cake I eat, his song I sing.” Is there not “a camel’s nose in the tent” here?

Here, the AAR official delineated what Tea-21 would do and would not do, as far as his industry is concerned.

“A public-private partnership is not taking public money for private good,” he explained, “It is the private sector going forward in conjunction with the public sector and [for example] as in Virginia, you can’t expect the private to provide that public good.”

Virginia Railway Express (VRE) commuter service carries riders between Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia’s bedroom communities.

VRE is often cited as an example of how “the private sector pays for its benefit, the public sector pays for its benefit, and there is no reason to put a hook, no strings attached. There is no subsidy. There is no cross-benefit. It is a straightforward analysis on a case-by-case basis, where each side pays for the benefit received.”

Here, Hamberger was outlining general policy. His bosses – the Class I railroads – would agree on what he said. In the details, however, there is known to be a divergence of opinion on the “great debate” within the freight railroad industry as to how far to go in breaking with traditional reluctance to accept taxpayer dollars.

The freight carriers have made it very clear that their trackage cannot accommodate “high-speed” passenger traffic.

So what is “high-speed?”

One hint of this came several days later in a talk by Bill Schafer, Director of Corporate Affairs for Norfolk Southern Corp. He pegged 90 mph as the limit.

If passenger carriers are thinking of speeds beyond that, Schafer told a January 14 luncheon of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, separate tracks would have to be provided, with the passenger operators paying the bill for that. On the Northeast Corridor where Amtrak owns its own tracks, that’s a different story.

Schafer emphasized he was just giving his own “personal opinion,” but he has been a good company man for years, and is not known to express views that would clash with company attitudes. He has a long history with NS and its predecessor, Southern Ry.

This does not put freight railroads at odds with present Amtrak management. Amtrak’s David Gunn himself has said TGV-style service crisscrossing America (outside the NEC) will happen “not in our lifetime,” a statement Schafer duly cited.


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RailAmerica signs pact with SCRRA

RailAmerica reported last week it has been awarded a standby operating services contract by the Southern California Regional Rail Authority (SCRRA) to provide more than 100 conductors and engineers to operate commuter trains in the event that primary operator Amtrak is unable to perform or fulfill its duties under their current contract with SCRRA.

SCRRA, a joint powers authority, governs the service of MetroLink, a regional commuter rail service and operator of seven routes through a six-county network with 507 route miles in southern California. This “as needed” contract runs from January 1, 2003 to June 30, 2004 and is on a cost plus basis if put into effect, according to a RailAmerica press release.

RailAmerica CEO Gary O. Marino, said, “Our contract with SCRRA allows us to fulfill contingency plans for a vital commuter operation. Effectively, we have expanded the scope and diversity of our operations with minimal capital expenditure.”


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Corridors Map

RSI

Newly created Railway Supply Institute is getting involved with high-speed corridors.

 

‘Railway Supply Institute’ is new name
for two merged rail industry giants

By Leo King
Editor

Two giants in the rail supply and rail support industries have merged.

“Railway Supply Institute” is the new name of two former organizations that merged late last year. Railway Progress Institute and Railway Suppliers Assn. joined hands to create the new, larger, and richer entity. The new association was created as of January 1.

Michael P. Pracht was appointed chairman of the passenger rail committee, effective January 1. He is also vice-president for marketing and business development for S Transportation Systems, Inc. of Sewickley, Penn.

Pracht told D:F, “This is an initial and significant step in a longer-term process intended to eliminate mainline (freight and passenger) industry fragmentation and strengthen industry voice and impact on important issues.”

He added, “This combined association will be ‘mainline focused’ and begin to develop a more offensive position with regard to funding equity, balanced transportation policy, growing intercity passenger momentum, and Amtrak reauthorization.”

He noted, “Several additional consolidations will also be pursued over the next one to three years that will begin to create comparable ‘critical mass’ to that possessed by American Public Transportation Assn. (APTA) on the transit side.”

He said he was a former member of RPI’s governing board, and he would remain with the new association.

Pracht said the organization has more than a few dollars in the bank.

“The combined association will have an annual operating budget of approximately $1 million with a strong starting war chest of another $1 million. Passenger rail, through my committee, will become a major priority this year given reauthorization and developing freight and passenger initiatives seeking new federal investment for intercity (incremental) rail development.”

He said he expects “Combined membership to grow to more than 500 companies with a significant “grass roots” contingent that will be particularly complimentary to the larger ‘800-pound gorillas’ typically comprising such organizations.

He added that the organization has “renewed an Association of American Railroads alliance beginning with a combined annual meeting and conference this year in Washington, D.C., which will involve all Class I CEOs and related staff.”

The combined organization is wasting no time in creating its alliances, including with political entities.

“We are forming an alliance between RSI and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) which will combine both industry leaders and regional legislators in a powerful attempt to get much-needed support in D.C. to provide ‘net-new’ funding for intercity passenger rail in the 108th Congressional reauthorization process.”

The organization is proposing a ‘new and improved’ passenger rail-on-the-Hill day sometime in May “that will unite private sector advocates with regional legislators in numbers far greater than we have seen at similar past events.”

He invited NCI to participate, along with other organizations.

“Join us in this initiative with the objective of having a serious impact on both policy and decision makers.”

In a position paper, the former Railway Progress Institute stated its Committee on Passenger Transportation “has a unique opportunity to lead the drive for increased public investment in the rail industry.”

In 2003, the 108th Congress “will consider the future of Amtrak and the potential for high-speed rail at the very same time that the $200-plus billion Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) is due for reauthorization. As the voice of the rail supply industry, RPI brings unique strength to this debate, which if resolved favorably will result directly in major new revenue opportunities for its members,” the white paper stated.

The paper noted that during its long history, RPI had “advanced the interests of the rail industry generally and its freight customers in particular.” It noted its members “played a key role in defeating repeated attempts during the 1980s and 1990s to reregulate the railroads, and succeeding in freezing truck size and weight limits in ISTEA in 1991.”

The document also noted, “Within the past two years, RPI’s Class I freight customers have recognized the potential of new federal investment in freight and intermodal facilities to meet both public needs and system capacity requirements.

The organization views itself in a leadership role, and its new agenda is to “increase total federal investment in rail transportation, both freight and passenger. Since the rail supply industry will benefit directly from any net new capital flows through investments in infrastructure, signaling and new vehicles, RPI is the logical organization to ‘take the point.’”

The committee’s passenger transportation initiative goal is to concentrate specifically on advancing near-term incremental, high-speed rail systems with operating speeds in the 90 to 110 mph range.

The white paper explained, “This is the most cost-effective (and beneficial) technology approach that can be implemented in a number of the federally designated corridors relatively quickly. Existing rail advocacy organizations cannot effectively target this niche because of wider constituent demands that include dedicated high-speed rail (126-180 mph), maglev (200 mph-plus), urban and regional commuter, and Amtrak. RPI is uniquely positioned to target this specific initiative with the precision and unanimity necessary to assure its ultimate success.”

The document also averred “RPI represents an industry sector with collective revenues exceeding $20 billion annually. The organization thus offers the resources necessary to truly lead this developing intercity passenger rail initiative and establish the coalitions necessary to create critical mass and speak in a unified voice.”

The RPI Passenger Transportation Committee will pursue two initial objectives – unifying the supply industry, and bringing freight railroads on board.

The former RPI’s Passenger Transportation Committee leadership saw itself as representing an opportunity “to unite all of the car builders under one roof if offered the right incentives,” and perceived that a “win-win dynamic could be generated for an advocacy war chest through a ‘challenge’ approach – if the committee can bring in all of the car builders, current RPI members would agree to contribute Y dollars to a common investment effort. Such an approach could be the only remaining way to get all of the vehicle manufacturers working together to build new markets for intercity higher-speed rail.”

Bringing the freight carriers aboard would be “harder to achieve,” the paper stated, “but some railroads (notably BNSF) have already expressed a strong interest in generating new investment in common corridors already utilized for passenger service. AAR is not an alternative for these progressive railroads, and only RPI offers a viable forum to leverage their interest.”

The document noted the High-Speed Ground Transportation Assn. “has already organized a promising coalition approach advocating increased public investment in high-speed rail… This initiative includes public sector groups such as States for Passenger Rail Coalition, State DOTs, National Conference of State Legislatures and others, together with environmental and other advocacy organizations.”

RPI had contacted the NCSL seeking a strategic partnership with combined efforts among the 32 states (comprising the federally designated corridors) to which the NCSL favorably responded.

“With a Passenger Rail Committee backed by a committed rail supply industry, RPI can move to the forefront of this coalition effort and immediately assume a strong leadership role, not reinventing the wheel, but working with the other advocacy groups toward common and mutually beneficial interests. As RPI’s greater financial resources, reach and effectiveness become apparent; coalition participants may soon recognize RPI as the ‘go-to’ entity with respect to the promotion of incremental higher-speed rail.”

The former Railway Progress Institute published a similar document, but in a slightly different format – as a Microsoft Power Point slide show. Both organizations were headed down the same path.

The document was intended to present talking points, but some highlights stated, “Interest and momentum for intercity passenger rail increased dramatically and consistently throughout 1990s, and noted, “Both incremental and dedicated routes were planned in the Midwest, Pacific Northwest, California, Florida and other federally-designated corridors.

The incremental approach, as the organization viewed it, “assumes shared access with the freight and commuter railroads at speeds up to 125 mph, but nominally 90-110 mph.”

Dedicated tracks require “assume grade and corridor-independent access at speeds above 125 mph,” which would be 150 mph or greater.

Political uncertainty remains a factor in whatever the organization does.

RPI was looking for a balanced transportation policy, which also included highways and airports), but funding remained an obstacle, and the organizations suggested the Highway Trust Fund might be a source. Private enterprise was also considered, and remains on the table.

Like RPI, the organization viewed industry fragmentation as a major problem – too many trade associations without “critical mass” and virtually no voice. Even supplier skepticism was a problem – “The Americans are ‘threatening again.”

Economics remained a critical factor. Capital investment requirements were not clear, although subsidies and partnering remained options, along with operating self-sufficiency from the farebox and other sources.

Their document observed “Airlines have added 250,000 new flights in the last three years creating more than 400,000 delays and cancellations,” and also that “Highways continue to absorb an endless stream of automobiles producing a 30 percent increase in driver delays in major cities and congesting 68 percent of highway traffic around metropolitan areas.”

Spending graph

RSI

How America – so far – has spent its transportation tax dollars.
Its writers observed, “Gridlock, winglock and road rage are all at epidemic proportions,” and with a 33 percent increase projected in air travel over the next five years “America is clearly in the midst of a national transportation crisis.”

In its view, “Rail is the only viable alternative to more lanes and runways, and stated flatly “Valuable lessons can be learned from Europe and Japan.”

Specific directions the nation needs to move in, it said, is to “assure Fiscal Year 2003 funding for Amtrak of $1.2 billion, and advance pending high-speed rail legislation [which Sen. Earnest “Fritz” Hollings reintroduced last week as S.104] the measure was expected to provide “a long-term strategy to build and maintain an effective national passenger railroad system.” [See D:F January 13].

The rail organization suggested incorporating rail-focused provisions in TEA-21 reauthorization in 2003, “mobilizing the private sector (commit to building it and they will come,) enlist the freight railroads – passengers and freight belong together like automobiles and trucks on the interstates.”

It also suggested reinforcing momentum for intercity passenger rail by establishing coalitions and partnerships with related entities (trade associations, state governments, freight railroads, etc) to leverage common interests and strengthen critical mass, evaluating strengths and weaknesses of funding bills to determine the most suitable alternatives, propose alternative public and private investment scenarios with mutual state, freight, and Amtrak benefits, and develop a legislative agenda that seeks increased funding for intercity passenger rail initiative and projects.


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DOT’s Mineta to undergo surgery

Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, who has run his agency from a hospital bed for most of the last six weeks, will undergo major back surgery January 24 to relieve chronic pain, aides said last week.

The surgery is to be performed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and will last up to 18 hours. Mineta 71, will be in intensive care for up to a week and is not expected to leave the hospital until at least mid-February.

Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson and senior staff members will run the department while Mineta recovers, agency spokesman Leonardo Alcivar said.

Mineta’s health problems have fueled speculation he might leave President Bush’s Cabinet. At a meeting Tuesday, however, Mineta told department officials he does not plan to quit.

“I’ll be back,” Mineta said, impersonating Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Terminator.”

Mineta is the only Democrat in the Cabinet. The former 10-term House member from San Jose, Calif., became the first Asian-American Cabinet secretary in 2000, when then-President Clinton tapped him to head the Commerce Department.


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Amtrak to cut Rutledge, report says

After February 28, the Ann Rutledge will make just one round-trip per day because legislative negotiators from the Missouri House and Senate cut the system’s subsidy to $5 million from $6 last June.

“We have requested a supplemental appropriation from the legislature of $1.2 million (to continue the Mules),” said Jan Skouby, administrator of railroads and waterways for the Missouri DOT, which administers the program, according to the Webster-Kirkwood Journal.

MoDOT officials also have requested an $8.9 million subsidy to fully fund the two round trips next year, she said.

Amtrak’s Ann Rutledge and Missouri Mules trains currently provide two round trips per day, with stops in downtown St. Louis, Kirkwood, Washington, Hermann, Jefferson City, Sedalia, Lee’s Summit, Independence and Kansas City.

Ridership was down slightly in 2002 from the 208,000 passengers in 2001. More stops must be added if the system is to become popular, particularly for business riders, said Tom Schrout, executive director of the advocacy organization Citizens for Modern Transit.

“It’s kind of the same concept of MetroLink,” Schrout said. “If you have lots of frequencies, your ridership goes up geometrically.

Due to the state budget crunch, it’s unlikely Amtrak will receive a $5 million subsidy in fiscal 2003, said Neal English, chief of staff to state Sen. Mike Gibbons (R).

Last year, Gibbons and several other legislators “fought really hard” to fund the system at $5 million, rather than a proposed cut to $3 million. Full funding for the system would have been $6 million, he said, and legislators had hoped the federal government would provide an additional $1 million, but it didn’t.


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Silver schedules change because of trackwork

CSX is fixing up some tracks in South Carolina, so Amtrak has had to revise its Silver Service schedule. Train No. 90, the northbound Palmetto, and train No. 97, the southbound Silver Meteor, are affected. Both trains travel daily between New York and Miami. Both began operating on revised schedules on January 15 and will continue to do so until February 19.

Train 90, which usually departs Miami at 5:00 p.m. each day will operate two hours earlier. The first train to travel on the revised schedule departed Miami at 3:00 p.m. on January 15. The earlier departure will continue daily until the normal schedule resumes with the Palmetto departure at 5:00 p.m. on February 20.

During the track work, the revised schedule for the southbound Silver Meteor, train 97, will be in effect four days a week. When operating on the revised schedule, train 97 will depart from stops between Florence, S.C. and Savannah, Ga. 30 minutes earlier than scheduled. The train will not make stops in Kingstree or Yemassee, S.C. on those days. Train 97 departures from points north of Florence and south of Savannah will continue to adhere to the regular schedule throughout the period of track work. Train 97 departures from New York will operate on the revised schedule on various days.

CSX said two other lines, one between Mobile, Ala., and New Orleans, would see trackwork begin on March 17 at 7 a.m. The freight carrier said it was “rehabilitating its main line” between both cities, and also “between Flomaton and Montgomery, Ala.” So required a complete closure to get the work done.

Line haul service will start to wind down on March 15, in preparation for the shutdown. CSXT expects service to return to normal by Monday, March 24.

Railroaders “will install some 79,000 ties and 150, 000 feet of rail. They will rebuild a 900-foot-long bridge, surface 71 miles of main line track and reconstruct numerous road crossings. If done under normal curfew and work processes, a project of this size would disrupt the traffic for several weeks.”

The freight carrier will have “11 tie and rail gangs and more than 700 employees concentrated in the area. They will work around the clock to complete the project by Thursday’s midnight deadline.”

The railroad will also have a 12-hour curfew in effect between Pensacola, Fla. and Mobile, Ala. from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Monday through Thursday, March 20.

“During the project, most line haul traffic will be rerouted via other railroads and gateways, which may result in a 24- to 48-hour lengthening of transit times,” a press release stated. The work is expected to end at midnight Thursday, March 20, and the line reopened on March 21.

The document added, “For local customers on those lines having 24-hour shutdowns, no service will be provided except minimal intra-plant switching at limited locations.”


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JetTrain heads home to Canada

Bombardier, Inc. brought its high-speed JetTrain to Canada for show-and-tell demonstrations with federal officials and rail operators next month – a signal that discussions on a fast-train launch in Canada are advancing more quickly than expected.

The plane and train maker had originally planned on showing off the train in the U.S. only in the short-term, said Lecia Stewart, Bombardier’s vice-president for high-speed rail, reports the Montreal Gazette of January 11.

Bombardier developed the JetTrain system in a $26 million joint project with the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration. It was designed to meet U.S. specifications and hit the market first in the U.S., where high-speed rail plans are more developed.

Florida will close a bidding process for a fast-train link in February and Bombardier said it would submit its JetTrain proposal. Bombardier is now extending its JetTrain marketing to Canada, Stewart said.

Bombardier said it would run the train on existing tracks starting in Montreal or Toronto, and then show off the product in Western Canada.

The company has identified the Montreal-Toronto and Edmonton-Calgary routes among 13 potential markets for its product, Stewart said, and added, “We’re going to take it out into an operating rail environment.”

Stewart said, “We believe it’s a very exciting product for high-speed rail. It’s right for the Canadian marketplace... This is the only high-speed, non-electric locomotive certified and ready for use in a North American environment.”

The JetTrain, powered by a Pratt & Whitney 5,000 hp gas-turbine engine, the same motor that runs Bombardier’s Dash-8 Q-400 turboprop airplane, is capable of sustaining speeds of 150 mph. That could take a passenger to Toronto from Montreal in just over two hours – if the tracks are up to the task.

The trains would run on existing tracks owned by Canadian National and Canadian Pacific railways, but according to information gathered from rail sources, upgrading the infrastructure between Canada’s two largest cities to accommodate the JetTrain would cost $1.4 billion.

That’s money Bombardier hopes the federal government will contribute.

As Bombardier’s new chief executive, Paul Tellier could grease the government wheels.

He was the government’s top civil servant for several years, then he moved to the top job at CN. Tellier is said to have exceptionally friendly relationships with Transport Minister David Collenette, an avowed train buff, and the Prime Minister’s office.

However, Stewart said, the JetTrain project will sell on its own merits, no matter who’s in charge at Bombardier.

Financial analysts noted that Bombardier has contributed to building high-speed rail projects in at least eight countries.

The Canadian federal government has had little will in the past to replace aging military helicopters, never mind transportation infrastructure.

Analysts said Tellier has more pressing issues to deal with than one relatively small train project in Canada. The company is facing its toughest quarter yet, with a big question mark on orders for regional jets.

Revenue at Bombardier’s train-making division ballooned last year from $3 billion to $7 billion, as it snapped up German train manufacturer Adtranz, but recently, as in the last few weeks, train orders have been coming in one after another.

A sticking problem is that the worldwide train market is mature, and the profit margins are not always big.


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California’s governor may put
high-speed rail under Caltrans

California Gov. Gray Davis last week proposed putting California’s high-speed rail project under Caltrans (the state’s DOT), a step critics say would torpedo the program.

The governor, looking for ways to eliminate a $34.8 billion budget deficit, proposed making the state High-Speed Rail Authority part of the department when he unveiled his budget-balancing plan, according to an AP report.

The now-independent authority’s nine-member board will continue to exist “but it won’t have any staff of its own,” said a source close to the project. “They will have to depend on somebody in Caltrans to do the work.”

He suggested the shift could bottle up the project by putting it at the mercy of a state bureaucracy with other demands on it.

State Sen. Dean Florez, a Shafter Democrat who has been a strong supporter of high-speed rail, said he will try to persuade other lawmakers to reject the shift and look for savings elsewhere.

”For the amount of money we would save, $2 million or $3 million, I would highly recommend that the governor eliminate some of our foreign trade offices, which have not proven to be that effective for California,” Florez said.

”Caltrans is about roads. They have never been exactly enamored with... rail. It would be the death of the project, absolutely a bad mix,” he added.

The authority’s chairman, Rod Diridon, said he has great respect for Caltrans Director Jeff Morales’ efforts to make the department “truly multimodal, but I fear that the extreme rapidity that the authority must move at would be jeopardized if we are consumed into the huge Caltrans bureaucracy,” he added.

The proposed 700-mile, $26 billion system would link Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Fresno and Sacramento with passenger trains running at top speeds of more than 200 mph.

Davis signed legislation last year putting a $9.95 billion bond measure on the November 2004 ballot to help pay for the first leg of the system, between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The authority is working with outside consultants to do the environmental reviews and planning needed before construction can begin.


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Lilly proposes removing downtown tracks

Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co. is proposing a radical plan to eliminate all downtown Indianapolis rail lines, including the elevated lines running to Union Station.

Such a plan, if approved, would mean the end of historic Union Station as a destination point for Amtrak passengers and the beginning of a new passenger station, probably located at Indianapolis International Airport.

Trains passing through Indianapolis on national routes would be shifted to the Belt Railroad, a line that bypasses downtown and is owned by Lilly, according to a January 13 report in the Indianapolis Star.

Mayor Bart Peterson’s administration is officially interested but not yet sold on Lilly’s plan. Its key concern is that Union Station has long been envisioned as the hub of a future rail system.

“We are entering into this with a totally open mind,” said Mike Peoni, who heads the mayor’s planning division. “We are looking at both costs and benefits, and we agree that it would probably be a positive thing for development of downtown.

“There is a lot of land with rail on it that is just sitting there. It’s pretty obvious the rail lines are an impediment to growth. We’re talking about opening up opportunities for businesses like Lilly and Anthem to become more a part of the regional center.”

At this point, Amtrak is opposed to the idea. So is CSX, which owns most of the rail lines Lilly wants to remove.

“We use Union Station, and we enjoy using that station,” said Amtrak spokeswoman Kathleen Cantillon in Chicago, who worries about a new station’s impact on travel distance and time.

“Something along this line has been in the air for a while.”

She said over the summer, “We sent a letter to Mayor Peterson, and basically we do believe this proposal would have a significant adverse impact on Amtrak.”

Lilly sees it having a positive impact on downtown:

Removing the “physical barriers to future development” would unite the separated Wholesale District and the Indy South District. The tracks-free land would become attractive to developers of new office buildings, residential areas or an expanded convention center – and maybe even a new football stadium.

With the city already looking at future downtown growth and a possible rapid-transit system, Lilly’s real estate manager says the timing is perfect for this proposal.

“Certainly, this kind of idea belongs somehow in that process,” said Jack Leicht, whose job is to determine where Lilly can grow in the future.

“In many cities, this is just a pipe dream because they have nowhere to go with the rail lines. We do. Now we want to test to see if there is some other interest beyond Lilly.”

Outside the immediate downtown area, the existing rails would likely remain in place for future use. Lilly is most interested in removing the infrastructure within the borders created by White River and the interstate highway system. The Belt runs from the White River, south beyond I-70 and then loops around the city to a point near 25th Street and Sherman Drive.

The proposal grew out of Lilly’s original desire to remove the elevated rail infrastructure that parallels Delaware Street. Its concern is that the infrastructure interferes with vehicular and pedestrian movement between the Lilly Corporate Center and its expansion west of the tracks, where three other buildings, a gym and child care center are located.


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Oregon is hard pressed to run trains

Oregon’s DOT has less than four months to figure out how to operate the Portland to Astoria train – but first it has to find enough money to run the excursion-style train service, because the operations subsidy was stripped out of the state appropriation.

Squeezing $442,000 out of the Oregon Legislature to buy three rail cars for a Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Celebration train service may have been the easy part, writes The Daily Astorian of January 14.

Now, on a shoestring budget, the list of tasks to complete before May 1 – a preliminary opening date – doesn’t end there. There are schedules to write, passenger accommodations to build, some minor safety issues to address and, of course, marketing – they have to get people to buy tickets.

“We don’t have a lot of money to do this,” said Claudia Howells, ODOT’s rail division administrator. “This is going to have to be a collective effort.”

She said ODOT, the Oregon Tourism Commission and the communities to be served by the train must work together to get the train rolling.

At least the cars are on hand, and in Ed Immel’s estimation, “We got a good deal.”

Immel, an ODOT rail planner, has inspected the three Budd cars the state is purchasing from British Columbia Ry., Canada’s third-largest railroad by revenue.

They were built in 1956 by the Budd Co. at its factory in Red Lion, Penn., near Philadelphia. Most recently, they ran a regular, 465-mile intercity route between North Vancouver and Prince George, B.C.

“This isn’t a car that grandmother only drove on Sunday,” Immel said, “but the railroad took good care of them.” All three Budd cars are self-powered, with 340 hp diesel hydraulic engines, which saves the cost of operating diesel locomotives.

“The nice thing about these cars is that we can size the train for the number of people that we have,” Immel said. Total seating capacity for all three stainless steel cars is a little more than 200.

Now that the equipment question is answered, what’s the condition of the track?

Crews have nearly completed major repairs, including inserting some 40,000 new ties between Clatskanie and Astoria. They were also ballasting and surfacing the iron.

All of the trestles, such as the one that crosses Alderbrook Lagoon, have been inspected and they are all “perfectly fine,” he said.

The maximum speed on most of the run will be 30 mph, with a few faster sections near Portland.

Before passenger service can begin, a safety barrier must be built to prevent any collisions between the train and the Astoria Riverfront Trolley. The train and the trolley will likely share the same track from the Astoria train station, where the train will stop, to the East Mooring Basin – the end of the line for the trolley.

Also, a waiting room, either in the existing station (across the tracks from the Columbia River Maritime Museum) or the adjacent freight shed, will have to be built. A passenger platform in Rainier is also needed.

The community will have to raise $50,000 to help fund some of these improvements and passenger accommodations.

Rainier is the only stop planned on the Portland to Astoria run so far. Other communities on the line have expressed interest, but Immel said ODOT doesn’t have enough money to build stations, so the communities would have to do that themselves. Furthermore, he said adding stops to the route would not help meet ODOT’s revenue goals.

Immel said the route, which passes through eagle sanctuaries and the Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge, is “gorgeous,” and will afford views to about six significant Lewis and Clark sites along the way.

“If there ever was a rail line that was connected to that expedition,” he said, “(this) was it.”

A preliminary schedule would have a morning train leave Portland at 7:30 a.m., arriving about four hours later, and departing at 4:30 p.m. The service would run from May through August and would cost about as much as an Amtrak Thruway bus – about $33 round-trip.

Rail administrator Howells said she hopes state subsidies will make the train accessible to a larger segment of the population.

“One of the reasons we’re wanting to subsidize this is to really provide access to people who would not be able to afford a $65 or $100 ticket,” she said.

Absent any revenue, it would cost ODOT a total of $3 million (including the cost of the Budd cars) to run the train during summer for the duration of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Celebration, 2003-05. Service could be extended beyond 2005 “if the market demand is there” and if ODOT can come up with additional funding, Howells said.

For the planned three years of service, if 100 people ride the train each day it operates, only $1.4 million in state subsidies would be needed. If 150 to 175 people ride the train each day, Immel said, the enterprise would just about break even.

“Obviously,” Howells said, “we have a very strong incentive to get that ridership up as high as we can and keep that subsidy as low as possible.”

Other excursion trains in Oregon have been successful, according to the Oregon Tourism Commission, including the Mount Hood Railroad, originating in Hood River, which handled about 62,000 riders last year. It saw gross revenues increase 2_ times between 1992 and 2001. The Crooked River Railroad in Central Oregon has averaged between 7,000 and 8,000 passengers a year during the last seven years.


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Some Californians irked at faster trains

Faster Amtrak and Union Pacific trains have made some Martinez, Calif., people a little nervous. Many say they weren’t expecting it.

Amtrak trains are now whizzing through a gritty stretch of northeast Martinez, past a refinery, at speeds approaching 79 mph. Freight trains, too, have picked up the pace through the area, increasing to 70 mph from 30 mph, according to the Contra Costa Times of Walnut Creek, Calif. The story was published on January 13.

Amtrak sought the added zip last year to improve travel time and efficiency along a route that tethers the East Bay to the Central Valley. The increase, which went into effect December 13, relates to a four-mile stretch between Martinez and the Concord Naval Weapons Station.

“It’s all about convenience,” said Vernae Graham, an Amtrak spokeswoman.

Union Pacific, which owns the tracks, approved the request and upgraded the affected line last summer, but businesses and drivers along the route are jittery about the looming threat of a serious accident. They’re also peeved about what they consider the railroads’ poor notification about the speed increase.

The altered speed route, part of the San Joaquin line, passes by Tesoro’s Golden Eagle Refinery. Four Amtrak passenger trains cross in each direction between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m.

“We’re disappointed that we didn’t get a chance to participate in the decision to increase the speed,” said Mark Hughes, spokesman for the refinery on Solano Way.

Tesoro sent out a safety bulletin November 21, indicating that it was told by Union Pacific that the revised speeds would go into effect the next day.

“A train could cross at any time!” it warned.

Contra Costa County and some business owners say Union Pacific did not notify them about the new speeds.

“The speed increase is something I didn’t hear about,” until attending a December 10 meeting, said Julie Bueren, the county’s deputy director of public works.

“I don’t think the railroad was very sympathetic,” she said.

UP spokesman Mike Furtney said those directly affected by the change “probably knew about it for some time. “We always try to work with everyone, whether a public entity like the county or a private one like the refinery,” he said.

He added, “We try to be as sympathetic as we can, but we also want others to know of their own obligations.”

Refinery officials have posted notices warning of the increase and are weighing whether to make improvements to roads to “reduce risk.”

Hughes declined to elaborate about the risks, but he indicated that 30,000 cars pass through the railroad crossing at Solano Way each month en route to the plant.

Amtrak , which served a record number of travelers in fiscal 2001 -- more than 23.5 million—says its new speeds are safe and necessary.

“Safety is always a major concern. We always take precautionary measures whenever we beef up in an area,” Graham said. “We’re still talking about pretty low speeds.”

The accelerated pace has raised a few eyebrows.

Hanson Aggregates, a sand plant near the tracks off Marina Vista, is concerned about the welfare of its truckers and customers.

Each day, anywhere from 50 to 100 trucks cross the tracks while entering the plant to load up on sand clawed out of the Bay.

Truckers are fearful about not being able to get out of the way of a fast-moving train coming down the line. One driver said collapsing crossing arms and flashing signals that warn of trains that never arrive already beset the industrial area. Add a train moving twice as fast into the equation, the driver said, and things “could go flying.”

“Our issue is exiting the property—if vehicles have to stop for traffic on the boulevard, they may extend back into the trains’ right of way,” said Bill Butler, Hanson’s vice president and general manager.


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Orlando high-speed line still in turmoil

The argument between Florida state government, local authorities and Disney World management is continuing, with the state’s high-speed rail authority caught between all the entities.

Disney said flatly last month don’t stop at the Orland Convention Center if you plan on stopping at Disney World – or vice versa.

Last month, a survey of 600 people found that 91 percent thought the rail line should include a station at the convention center, and 78 percent said Disney also should have a stop on the line. The survey had a margin of error of 4 percent, according to The AP on January 14.

High-speed rail was voted into the state constitution two years ago. The first planned leg, running from Tampa to Orlando, is expected to cost about $1.5 billion with construction scheduled to start in mid-2004.

The first detailed ridership studies were released last month, and they contain the seeds of the dispute.

If the route from the Orlando airport runs to the convention center and Disney, then on to Tampa, it would draw an annual ridership of 1.93 million to 2.27 million in 2010. Projected revenues range from $32.9 million to $35.4 million, according to one study.

A Disney-direct path bypassing the convention center, laid parallel to the Central Florida GreeneWay south of the airport, would have an annual ridership of 1.66 million to 1.9 million with revenues ranging from $27.9 million to $29.7 million. The GreeneWay toll road forms a half-complete beltway around the Orlando metro area.

Although the numbers seem to tip the scales in favor of the Beeline, Disney’s lack of cooperation would dash any planning numbers that include riders from the airport to the resort.

The most expensive part of building any transportation infrastructure is the acquisitions of right of way, experts say. Cheap land is hard to come by, especially in locations near popular destinations such as Disney World.

To offset its hardball negotiating stance, Disney is offering a 50-acre parcel near the Wide World of Sports complex with easy access to Interstate 4, the Osceola Parkway and U.S. Highway 192.

If the GreeneWay route is chosen, Disney said it would place on the trains its 2.2 million “captive market” riders – people whose transportation to the resort are included in their vacation packages. Buses now move those visitors.

The revenue boost the train would get from that captive market is big: $26.3 million, resulting in a possible $56 million in annual ticket sales from the GreeneWay route.

In contrast, the convention center and International Drive has an estimated captive market of just 530,000 for a revenue of $6.4 million.

“I think the decision (to choose the GreeneWay) isn’t made to help Disney, but it’s made with the knowledge that Disney is what it is, where it is and that’s where the people go,” Orlando attorney Skip Fowler said. “You’ve got to be very pragmatic; we’re spending a billion and a half dollars here.”

The Florida High Speed Rail Authority is online at http://www.floridahighspeedrail.org/

Orange County Government is at http://www.orangecountyfl.net/Default.asp

Disney’s address is http://disney.go.com/park/homepage/today/flash/index.html


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FRA creates new cost analysis tool

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) reported on January 13 it has a new online application and database “designed to aid benefit-cost analyses of highway-rail grade crossing infrastructure investments.”

It is called “GradeDec.Net.”

The application, accessible at http://gradedec.net, can be used to evaluate the benefits and costs of rail investment projects, specifically those involving highway-rail grade crossing improvements (including grade separation or closure), within a risk analysis framework.

FRA Administrator Allan Rutter said railroad and highway designers “may now compare the safety, air quality, and highway user benefits to the costs of grade crossing investments online.” He added, “GradeDec.Net provides users with easy online access to key databases and statistical models, generates useful charts, graphs and reports, and allows users to save analyses for distribution, reuse, and refinement.”

Federal infrastructure investment policies require, among other things, analyses of the expected benefits and costs, quantitative and qualitative, of such investments. GradeDec.Net is a revised version of GradeDec, originally developed in 1998 in consultation with several state DOTs and metropolitan planning organizations. State, local and regional government agencies, and railroads have used both versions successfully, according to Rutter.

The GradeDec model was tested and reviewed at the Institute of Transportation Studies at the Univ. of California at Berkeley.

The model employs current research findings on the environment, safety, and traffic network analysis. Users can customize analytical models to reflect regional conditions, and to obtain dollar values for a full range of benefit categories. The National Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Inventory database and USDOT Accident Prediction and Severity Model are integrated features of GradeDec.Net.

The application allows users to evaluate expected changes in accident risk, travel time savings, vehicle operating cost savings, and air quality benefits, while accounting for changes in highway-rail crossing maintenance and capital costs.

Users are able to conduct benefit-cost analyses for individual or multiple crossings at the corridor or regional level. Corridor-level analysis allows users to rank crossing improvements by benefit category and to identify grade crossing investments that may reduce highway traffic congestion. A regional-level analysis allows users to evaluate grade crossings for a geographic area as small as a township, or as large as multiple counties or a state.


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‘Sunshine’ to enter STB meeting

New Surface Transportation Board Chairman Roger Nober said last week the board will hold an open voting conference on January 30. The three board members will discuss publicly among themselves, and vote on, several pending transportation cases.

He did not specify which cases they would discuss.

“While the public is invited to attend the voting conference, no public participation will be allowed. Members of the public and the media wishing to observe the voting conference will be advised, through a forthcoming board news release, that will provide the docket numbers and titles comprising the voting conference agenda.”

The conference will begin at 10:00 a.m. on January 30, in Room 760, the board’s hearing room, on the 7th Floor at the agency’s headquarters in the Mercury Building, 1925 K Street, N.W. (on the northeast corner of the intersection of 20th and K Sts.), Washington, D.C.

The STB is online at http://www.stb.dot.gov.


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Masseuses to sooth harried Amtrak riders

Amtrak riders headed toward Sacramento will be offered a new relaxing amenity on board the train — a-dollar-a-minute neck and shoulder massages.

Starting on January 13, certified massage therapists were aboard afternoon train 538 Monday through Thursday as part of a new pilot program. Passengers interested in rubdowns will sit in special massage chairs in the lower level of a bilevel coach.

This is the first time massage therapy has been offered on Amtrak trains in the West. The program is scheduled to end on February 6, but if it is successful, it may be continued beyond that date.


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Texans consider sales tax hike for transport

Four Texas mayors sat in an Arlington conference room on January 12 listening to a proposal to increase the sales tax to pay for mass-transportation projects.

The mayors of Arlington, Dallas, Denton and Fort Worth were among the participants. They were joined by two-dozen other leaders of smaller communities and of Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant counties and by representatives of the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, Dallas Area Rapid Transit and the Denton County Transportation Authority.

The group was assembled to learn more about the chances of raising the state’s 8.25-cent sales-tax limit to 9.25 cents when the state legislature reconvened the next day the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

There were also a handful of state legislators

The legislators told the local leaders that they had no plans to sponsor a sales tax bill. The lawmakers said Gov. Rick Perry had pledged not to raise taxes in the 2003 session. Filing a bill to allow a sales-tax increase – or even to give local voters the option – is simply unwise in these tough economic times, they said.

Those who support the idea of a four-county transit system must decide what to do next. Among the options is a plan to do nothing and let DART continue to expand its rail system on its own, mostly by connecting the east side of the Metroplex to downtown Dallas.

Another notion is to work within the 8.25-cent sales-tax limit and try to squeeze out enough money from communities that have room to increase sales-tax rates for a slight expansion of rail lines, and to supplement that effort by searching for other tax revenue and federal money to cover the costs of new rails.

A third idea is to keep up the unified effort and spend the next two years building grassroots support among voters in the four counties for a sales-tax increase.

Based on the discussion Thursday, the last option seems the most promising. Over the next 18 months, supporters of the sales tax could fire up an aggressive campaign to get the public on their side.

They could conduct public meetings in more than 130 area communities and tell the voters how much money would be raised, how it would be spent and where the rail lines would go.

They could also tell voters how much the proposal would improve the Metroplex’s dirty air and congested highways.

“Metroplex” is a local term referring to the greater Dallas and Fort Worth area.

They could force the discussion to remain on the front burner of local politics, and then call a referendum for 2004. If the voting public likes the plan, those who hold political power in state government might not be able to say no.


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Amtrak revises Capitol Corridor timetable

Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor began a new schedule on January 26 with 22 daily trains, including 22 on weekdays and 19 weekend trains.

The railroad added a new weekday train, No. 521, operating from Sacramento to San Jose.

“I was raised in the ‘Dave Gunn School of Management’,” said Eugene Skorpowski, Managing Director of Capitol Corridor, of the additional train service. “Which simplified, means that there are always efficiencies to be made, and if you can’t find a way to make improvements or cost efficiencies one way, try another way. That’s what we’ve done. I think the private sector term for this activity is called ‘good management’ of resources.”

The updated timetables are available now at Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor stations and other agencies, including visitor’s bureaus, hotels, universities, and regional transit groups.

Capitol Corridor is online at http://www.amtrakcapitols.com/.


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COMMUTER LINES...

T riders flock to three new stations

Four months after the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority added the last of three new train stations on the commuter rail line between Boston and Worcester, the expanded service appears to be a hit with commuters.

Some 1,385 passengers board on weekdays in Westborough, Southborough, and Ashland – almost 80 percent of the 1,736 that the authority projected would use the stations by 2006, according to a commuter count just released by the MBTA. Nearly all of the boarding passengers take Boston-bound trains, the MBTA said.

Moreover, 560 passengers are getting on in Westborough, more than double the 250 who were projected to be boarding there in 2006, according to Joe Pesaturo, an MBTA spokesman. The passenger count was done in late October, two months after the Ashland station opened as the final link in the $14.2 million rail expansion project. The MBTA called the count a one-day “snapshot” and said it had no evidence that the number had declined, according to the Boston Globe of January 12.

“It proves once again that people are crying out for an alternative to highway travel,” Pesaturo said. For at least a decade, public transportation advocates had urged the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to expand rail service to relieve traffic congestion in the western suburbs.

The trains operate from Worcester to CP-3 over CSX tracks, where they enter Amtrak and MBTA territory. CP-3 is a controlled point, an interlocking, three miles west of South Station at Beacon Park Yard, but on the main line at Newton.

The Southborough and Ashland stations are less popular than the one in Westborough, where the 318-space lot is already at capacity, but they still attract lots of passengers.

Some 415 commuters board on weekdays in Southborough, compared with a projected 513 in 2006. What’s more, 410 get on in Ashland, compared with a projected 973. The Southborough and Westborough stations opened in June.

Partly because of the surging ridership, Pesaturo said, the MBTA has talked with political and business leaders in Worcester about the possibility of increasing the number of trains that stop in Westborough, Southborough, and Ashland on runs between Boston and Worcester. Now, 20 trains make the trip in both directions on weekdays.

Philip Niddrie, the chief development officer for Worcester, said he is eagerly awaiting the results of a yearlong MBTA-financed study by KKO and Associates of Andover. The study, which is due to be released within a few weeks, is expected to assess the potential for more trains on the line.

But Niddrie is already convinced that the MBTA should add four more midday trains, two westbound and two eastbound, for people who live in Worcester and work in Boston, and for “reverse commuters.”

“We have employers here, especially in the biotech industry, who say a better train schedule would help them recruit employees more easily,” Niddrie said.

There is no timetable for increasing the number of trains, and Pesaturo had no details about how many more might be added. Any schedule change would have to be approved by CSX Transportation, the freight company that owns the 15 miles of track between Framingham and Grafton.

Still, Pesaturo said, the obvious hunger of commuters to ride the rails instead of drive on the highway “makes us think about what we can do to accommodate people.”


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Will commuter trains go to Maine?

A group of economic developers and citizens are working on a project that would help relieve stress for Maine residents who commute daily to Boston. They are lobbying the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to extend commuter rail from Newburyport, Mass., to Kittery, according to the Portland Press Herald of January 14.

The plan to expand commuter rail service is not new, but it may gain momentum as the number of commuters in New Hampshire and Maine grows.

“York County, Maine, is now suburban Boston,” said Peter Griffin, president of the New Hampshire Rail Revitalization Association, a group that is working to build support for the project. Griffin’s organization has 100 members in four states, including Maine.

A feasibility study done by the Rockingham Planning Commission in New Hampshire concluded that extending the line is possible but would be extremely costly.

In 1999, planners estimated that the cost of building and maintaining the line would be between $77 million and $101 million, said Cliff Sinnott, executive director of the planning commission.

“It’s feasible, it may be a good alternative, but it’s going to be very expensive and therefore probably a number of years off,” he said.

The extended line would run on an existing rail corridor known as the Hampton branch, which runs close to the coast from Newburyport through Salisbury, Mass., past the Seabrook, N.H., nuclear power plant, through Hampton and North Hampton to Portsmouth.

The study also concluded that there would be about 1,000 riders a day on the service, including riders from Maine.

The true number could be greater, said Sinnott, because the study took into account a station in Portsmouth, not Kittery.

While those numbers are encouraging in proving a demand for the service, they also indicate that running the service would be costly.

“The cost of serving that number of people is quite high and results in a very high subsidy per rider, compared to other services,” Sinnott said.

Most of the responsibility for extending the line rests with New Hampshire, transportation officials said, but New Hampshire is working on another rail project, to extend commuter service to Nashua and Manchester, said Kit Morgan, administrator of the Bureau of Rail and Transit for the New Hampshire DOT.

“I think there’s not much prospect of getting the money for it at this point in time, to be perfectly honest,” Morgan said. “Among all of the things we’d like to do that we don’t have money for, this isn’t the highest priority.”

Still, the Rockingham Planning Commission is working on another study, called an alternatives analysis, comparing the commuter rail proposal to other options, such as increasing bus service on Interstate 95.

The study is a required step in making the commuter rail program eligible for federal “new start” funds. Even if the project does receive new start money, Sinnott said, the state still would have to provide matching funds.

It is not known whether Maine would put up any money, should the line be extended to Kittery. Maine is also wrapped up in its own rail projects, most notably expanding Amtrak Downeaster service from Portland to Brunswick and Auburn.

“It’s probably a good idea, but it’s not a priority,” said Ron Roy, the state’s director of passenger transportation. “If they ever got it to Portsmouth, then I think we would be engaged to get it to Kittery if it was needed and cost-effective.”

Another question for Mainers is whether the service would be fast enough.

“I know several people have tried to just go down to Newburyport, and that’s quite a ride,” said Barry Maddix of York, who takes a van pool out of Portsmouth.

“I think it will be great on the weekends, but in terms of commuters, I think it’s going to have to work hard to be as convenient as the buses or the vans.”


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Raleigh passes light rail environmental muster

Raleigh, N.C. and the Triangle Transit Authority (TTA) learned that its rail project meets federal environmental rules, which helps clear the way for federal funding.

The next step is to start final design and buy land, says TTA General Manager John Claflin, writes the Charlotte Observer of January 12.

Triangle’s plan is to open a 35-mile line in 2007, laying new track on railroad right-of-way that now connects Durham, Research Triangle Park, Cary, Raleigh and north Raleigh. It will cost $724 million in 2002 dollars.

TTA is planning on running a self-propelled diesel-powered train, known as a diesel multiple unit (DMU). It’s unclear if they will buy new equipment from Colorado Railcar, or purchase used, 50-year-old Budd cars.

Charlotte’s rapid transit system, also in the planning phase, expects to get its environmental declaration from the Federal Transit Administration in late March or early April for its 10-mile, $371 million south Charlotte light-rail line. Its electric-powered trains will start service in summer 2006.

Both systems expect to get Tea-21 funding.


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Here are some other transit headlines, from the pages of Passenger Transport, the weekly newspaper of the public transportation industry published by the non-profit American Public Transportation Assn. For more news from Passenger Transport and subscription information, visit the APTA web site at
http://www.apta.com/news/pt.

 

Legislation Creating Detroit Area Transit Not Dead Despite Veto

Michigan state legislation that would have created the Detroit Area Regional Transit Authority to oversee both Detroit DOT and the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation is expected to rise again in the new legislative term. The bill passed in both the state House and Senate in the fall of 2002, but was vetoed by outgoing Gov. John Engler on Dec. 30.

The bill will need a new sponsor in the state House because its author in the last legislative session, former state Rep. Kwame Kilpatrick, is now mayor of Detroit.

According to Carmine Palombo, director of transportation planning with the South East Michigan Council of Governments, it is expected that the bill will be reintroduced in both the state House and Senate when the legislature reconvenes later this month. The new governor, Jennifer Granholm, has expressed an interest in signing the legislation, he said: “We’ve just got to get it to her.”


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World’s First Urban Maglev Inaugurated in Shanghai

On the last day of 2002, Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder headed the delegation of officials on the inaugural trip of the world’s first urban maglev, which connects downtown Shanghai with Pudong International Airport.

The 30-kilometer (18.6-mile) run took just eight minutes, reaching a top speed of 431 kilometers per hour (269 miles per hour), according to German press reports.

The line was built in 22 months as a joint Chinese/German project by a bi-national consortium that included Siemens and Adtranz, which is owned by DaimlerChrysler.

The Shanghai maglev operates with Transrapid magnetic levitation from Transrapid International GmbH & Co. KG, a joint company of Siemens and ThyssenKrupp that was formed in May 1998 in Germany. Transrapid uses non-contact levitation, guidance, and propulsion systems that safely and efficiently move the vehicle down a fixed guideway.


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Biehler Nominated as Pa. Transportation Secretary

Allen D. Biehler, a transportation consultant and 17-year employee of Pittsburgh’s Port Authority of Allegheny County, has been nominated by Pennsylvania Gov.-elect Ed Rendell as state secretary of transportation. The nomination must be confirmed by the Pennsylvania state Senate.

Biehler is currently a vice president with the international transportation consulting firm DMJM+HARRIS. He has 34 years experience in transportation engineering, planning, construction administration, and public transportation management. He currently serves as project manager for the North Shore LRT Connector and the Strategic Transit Visioning Study projects in Pittsburgh, and earlier was director of planning and preliminary engineering for the Tren Urbano rail system in San Juan, P.R.

During his tenure with the Port Authority, Biehler held a variety of senior planning, construction, and engineering positions including director of planning, engineering, and construction. At the time he left the system in 1996, he was serving as acting executive director after William W. Millar left the Port Authority to become president of APTA.


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Donald Sheardown Dies; Former President of Ontario Bus Industries

Donald K. Sheardown, 67, of Mississauga, Ontario, the former president of Ontario Bus Industries, the predecessor to Orion Bus Industries, died suddenly on Dec. 31, 2002.

Sheardown bought the Mississauga firm in 1979 in a bankruptcy hearing from the Wolschlager family, which founded Ontario Bus Industries. At the time, the company had 35 employees, which grew to 1,200 during Sheardown’s tenure. Two years later, he established Bus Industries of America, a subsidiary of the company, in New York State with six employees. Today, 500 people work at this facility.

Sheardown suffered a stroke in December 1993, and the company was taken over by the Ontario government in February 1994, changing its name to Orion Bus Industries that same year. The company subsequently was sold to Western Star Trucks, which was bought by DaimlerChrysler in 1997.


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Jerry Allen Dies at 62; Carter & Burgess Chairman and President

Jerry W. Allen, 62, chairman of the board and president of Carter & Burgess Inc. in Fort Worth, Texas, died Dec. 28.

Allen joined Carter & Burgess in 1969, after a period of service with the City of Fort Worth Public Works Department, becoming a principal (stockholder of the firm) in 1973; president and chief executive officer in 1988; and subsequently chairman of the board.

At a meeting on Jan. 3, the company’s board of directors elected Phil Deaton, office manager in Dallas, as the new chairman of the board and Ben Watts, a senior vice president and national transportation programs manager, as president. In addition, Wilton Hammond was elected to serve out the remainder of Allen’s term on the board, until the Annual Stockholders Meeting in March.

Under Allen’s leadership, Carter & Burgess expanded from some 200 employees and $17 million in revenue in 1988 to 2,300 employees and $381 million of revenue in 2002. Among the public transportation-related clients obtained by the firm under Allen are Dallas Area Rapid Transit; Houston’s Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County; San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District; Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority; and numerous state DOTs.


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Texas consultants look for funding

A consulting group has asked for Brazos County funding in an effort to bring high-speed rail to the Bryan-College Station, Texas area, reports The Bryan-College Station Eagle of January 15.

Dean International, which represents the nonprofit Texas High-Speed Rail and Transportation Corp., presented a plan for participation to the Commissioners Court that would require the county to contribute $35,000 for Washington lobbyists.

The commissioners are expected to vote on joining the group during February.

“I am skeptical, but I certainly don’t want to dismiss the fact that it would benefit Brazos County if it came through,” county Judge Randy Sims said Tuesday night, adding that he hadn’t yet made up his mind. “It’s a difficult decision.”

If the county were to approve the funding, it would join the cities of College Station, Houston and Killeen, as well as Harris County, as members of the corporation.

The cities of Bryan and Temple have yet to decide if they will join.

The focus of the corporation is the National Defense Rail Act, a Senate bill that proposes to set aside billions of dollars for high-speed rail corridors throughout the country.

Currently, the proposed routes don’t include a stop in the Bryan-College Station area. That’s why the group needs funding, consultants said Tuesday.

“Congress has got to debate this thing still, so we still have time [to add Brazos County],” senior public policy consultant Michael Simmons told the commissioners – but the fact that there is no guarantee the track will go through Brazos County makes him hesitant to give out money, Sims said.

In a letter to Sims that also was handed to the commissioners last week, the Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corp. compared the opportunity for high-speed rail to the development of the interstate highway system and commercial aviation.

”Historically, Brazos County has been underserved by both aviation and the interstate highway system,” the letter said. “However, you and our colleagues have the ability to correct these inequities.”


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Sound Transit, Port of Seattle agree on airport light-rail link

A decade from now, light-rail riders will be able to travel directly from downtown Seattle to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Sound Transit and the Port of Seattle agreed on January 15 to split the $20 million tab for initial designs for the connection, which will let off passengers at the airport. Sound Transit had been widely criticized for planning to build a “train to nowhere,” that would have stopped shy of the airport, at South 154th Street, and would have been connected to the airport with shuttle buses.

At a press conference at Sound Transit’s Union Station headquarters, King County Executive Ron Sims said he pushed for the agreement because he didn’t want to leave a legacy of building a system that didn’t reach the airport, according to the Puget Sound Business Journal in Seattle.

He said existing local funding mechanisms would pay for the project, without depending on federal funds. He said it would be funded within Sound Transit’s South King County “Subzone,” and without raising new taxes. He declined to name a possible price tag for the extension, saying that such numbers can cause political problems later on, and that so little design work has been done there are no good numbers.

A critical breakthrough between Sound Transit and the port was finding a route from the north that both could live with.

Sound Transit agreed to run the line down the median of the new highway into the airport that the port plans to build, leaving room for a proposed people mover to rental car areas, which will be built nearby. The light-rail link can’t be built until the port finishes the highway. The port is slowing its plans to expand its north terminal, reflecting reduced demand from the airlines.

Mic Dinsmore, chief executive officer of the port, said the rail line might realistically be finished as late as 2012.

“There isn’t an international in the world that doesn’t have interconnectivity with the downtown area, and we’re going to have it,” he said.

An upbeat Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels said, “This agreement represents a great step forward, that will be followed by many other announcements.”

The light-rail extension could potentially serve many of the 18,000 people who work at the airport, as well as many of the approximately 100,000 passengers and greeters that flow through the airport daily. While it may be slightly slower than driving to the airport when Interstate 5 is free, it will be immune to traffic slowdowns.


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FREIGHT LINES...

CSX Remote Controlled Engine

NCI: Leo King

CSX is among the nation’s railroads that have begun using remotely controlled locomotives. This one is pulling a drag in Baldwin Yard, Fla. last November.

 

BLE outraged over ‘remote’ decision;
AAR says they are safe in yards

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE) is outraged that an arbitrator has sided with the nation’s freight railroads over the use of remote-control locomotives. The Association of American Railroads argues they are safe to use in yards.

Arbitrator Gil Vernon, Chairman of Special Board of Adjustment No. 1141, opened the door for the nationwide operation of unmanned remote control trains, “a controversial practice that could compromise safety and lead to widespread job losses,” according to BLE International President Don Hahs, speaking from the union’s Cleveland headquarters on January 10.

Five days later, Association of American Railroads (AAR) president and CEO Edward R. Hamberger took issue with claims that “portable locomotive control technology” will lead to an increase in accidents, citing data “that proves the new technology could sharply reduce the number of train accidents in rail yards. U.S. railroads are in the process of installing PLCT in yards, where more than half of all train accidents occur.”

The 59,000-member BLE was upset at Vernon’s decision, which, the union said, “upholds the assignment of remote control jobs to a newly created position known as ‘remote control operator,’ instead of professional locomotive engineers.” Hahs predicted that between 4,000 and 5,000 members of the United Transportation Union (UTU) could lose their jobs as well as BLE members due to the implementation of remote control trains.

“First and foremost, the decision creates serious safety concerns for railroad employees and the general public,” Hahs said.

“Trains carrying nuclear waste and other hazardous materials will now be operated – at least in terminal operations – by employees who have as little as 80 hours of training,” he argued.

Hahs stated, “More than 30 accidents and derailments involving remote control were reported to the BLE in the past 11 months, and I believe it is not the fault of the employees. These workers have not received adequate training prior to being thrown to the wolves. This situation is a ticking time bomb. Since September 25, four U.S. cities – Baton Rouge, La., Shreveport, La., Detroit, Mich., and Marysville, Mich., have cited safety concerns in the adoption of resolutions banning remote control operations and or calling upon the FRA to adopt enforceable regulations to govern the use of the technology.”

AAR’s Hamburger countered, “There is absolutely no data or evidence to support those who say the new technology compromises safety. In fact, experience and logic tell us just the opposite.”

He pointed out that remote control operations “have been widely used in Canada for more than 10 years and has proven to be far safer than conventional technology. It has been credited with sharply reducing the number of yard accidents on Canadian railroads, and recent statistics from both of Canada’s major railroads show just how much PLCT improves yard safety.”

Between 1998 and 2000, Canadian Pacific Ry., he said, reported that the accident rate at locations where PLCT was used “was only one-third of that at facilities where conventional technology was used.” He added that Canadian National Ry. “reported that accident rates attributed to human factors were reduced by at least one-third at locations where PLCT was used between 1997 and 2001.”

Hamburger explained, “One reason for this is that PLCT reduces the possibility of miscommunication. With conventional technology, train service employees in the yard direct locomotive operations either through hand signals or radio communications with the locomotive engineer. Under PLCT, remote control operators on the ground direct the locomotive’s operation by sending digital signals directly to an onboard computer.”

Hahs said FRA actions “contributed to the magnitude of [the] decision by failing in its duty to protect public safety and the safety of railroad employees. In essence, the FRA circumvented its own regulations (49 CFR Part 240) by creating a deskilled engine craft (remote control operator).”

Hamberger countered, “The FRA studied the technology for nearly a decade, holding a series of public meetings to examine the safety of the new technology. The FRA, which has responsibility for rail safety, issued guidelines for PLCT in 2001. Before beginning PLCT operations, railroads file a certification training program with the FRA. Operating rules are also filed with the FRA.”

Hahs suggested “The decision violates more than 150 years of established practice, ignoring federally certified locomotive engineers as the only craft responsible for moving and operating trains. The decision also fails to recognize current collective bargaining agreements, local and national agreements, and years of past practice.”

The BLE President also charged that over the past three decades, the UTU and railroad management have conspired to eliminate numerous railroad positions, usually through attrition and sharing of the savings.

He said the decision “is illogical and does not conform to years of established practice,” and cited “the UTU’s 1985 national agreement, which provides for the forced promotion to locomotive engineer, established the precedent of engineer as the prevailing craft. Eighteen years later, the carriers and UTU have collaborated to change this scenario for self-serving reasons, thereby denying the very people they forced to take promotion access to the remote control work.”

According to the BLE, in addition to safety concerns, several city councils cited the threat of terrorist attacks that specifically targeted U.S. railroads as one of the reasons for banning remote control trains. The USDOT issued this terrorist warning to U.S. railroads on October 22. Several other cities are considering similar measures.

“It is my belief that in order to ensure safety, each remote control assignment should have at least one federally certified locomotive engineer as a member of the crew,” Hahs said.

He added, “The biggest losers, unfortunately, are the very members both organizations represent. The BLE and UTU will lose one job on every assignment for payment of one hour and 32 minutes. There are no winners today as far as operating crews are concerned. The winners are rail management and the manufacturers of remote control devices.”

Hahs said he would arrange meetings with the FRA and the National Carriers Conference Committee “to press for resolution of BLE’s safety concerns and other issues regarding this matter.”

The BLE is online at http://www.ble.org/remotecontrol.

The AAR is online at http://www.aar.org/.


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Pennsylvania spends $6.3 million on freight

Pennsylvania will be spending more than $6.3 million in state capital budget funds to help finance needed infrastructure repairs on nine rail-freight projects.

“The smooth and efficient operation of our railroads contributes to economic development, job creation and safer highways,” state DOT Secretary Bradley Mallory in Harrisburg. He added, “These grants provide the capital necessary to maintain and expand essential rail-freight operations in Pennsylvania.”

The PennDOT’s Bureau of Rail Freight, Ports and Waterways oversees the funding which will be used to construct, maintain and rehabilitate rail lines and grade crossings.

The Wheeling & Lake Erie Ry. Co., of Brewster, Ohio, will get $500,000, for mainline rehabilitation in Jefferson Hills and Clairton; the Buffalo & Pittsburgh Railroad, Inc., of Punxsutawney, will receive $1 million to rehabilitate track between Punxsutawney and Eidenau.

Other carriers will include Beaver Valley Slag Inc. of Aliquippa, $345,000, to build a siding to connect with the CSX mainline in Hopewell and Center townships. It is expected 100 new jobs will be created. The Brandywine Valley Railroad Co. of Coatesville will see $481,500 for track rehabilitation that will allow heavier rail cars within Modena Yard in East Fallowfield Township. Six new jobs are expected to be created.

Elsewhere, RJ Corman Railroad Co. of Nicholasville, Ky., will get $1 million to rehabilitate the Clearfield Cluster in West Keating, Clearfield, Cresson and Fallen Timber; SEDA-COG Joint Rail Authority in Lewisburg will see $1,070,000, for welded rail replacement on the Nittany and Bald Eagle Railroad between Lock Haven, Milesburg and Tyrone; Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad Co., of Monroeville, $540,000, to rehab its mainline between Beaver, Hempfield and Conneaut; Reading, Blue Mountain & Northern Railroad Co., of Port Clinton, will see $377,800, to rebuild a former Central New Jersey Railroad bridge, and 20 new jobs should be created.

The Delaware & Hudson Ry. Co. Inc., of Clifton Park, N.Y., will receive $1 million for rehabilitation work on its mainline from Sunbury to Taylor Yard. Five new jobs are expected to be created.


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RailAmerica acquires new lines

RailAmerica, Inc., of Boca Raton, Fla., reported on January 15 it has consummated several transactions “that are expected to increase carloads, generate new business and improve revenues.”

RailAmerica’s Dallas, Garland & Northeastern Railroad (DGNR) has agreed to buy about 2.6 miles of track from Kansas City Southern for $850,000. Also included is the right-of-way, real estate leases and facilities owned by KCS in western Dallas.

Offering connections to Class I carriers KCS, Union Pacific and Burlington Northern & Santa Fe, DGNO “anticipates improving customer service and increasing business along the line. Customers include DelMonte Foods, BOC Gas, Dallas Transfer, DFW Logistics, Liberty Metals, Thermo Serve, Southwest Molding and Train Paper.”

In conjunction with the purchase of the property, DGNO has signed a six-year agreement to handle KCS-UP interchange traffic in the Dallas area. DGNO expects the west Dallas and KCS-UP interchange traffic to continue to generate approximately $1.0 million annually in revenue. DGNO and KCS are expected to complete the purchase in the first quarter 2003.

RailAmerica’s Toledo, Peoria & Western Ry. (TPW) has purchased 40 miles of rail line from Cargill Industries for $1.85 million.

“This purchase allows TPW to solidify its connection to the Winamac Southern Railroad, a short line operated by RailAmerica that ultimately connects to RailAmerica’s Central Railroad of Indianapolis.”

The line purchased stretches from Winamac through Effner to Logansport, Ind. Previously, this line was operated under a long-term lease.

“By purchasing the line, TPW will be able to avoid more than $600,000 in capital costs.”

The carrier stated the STB had already approved the sale, which closed on January 13. TPW primarily moves intermodal traffic and grain and connects with virtually all Class I carriers.

RailAmerica’s Chesapeake & Albemarle Railroad (C&A) has entered into an agreement with the Norfolk Southern Ry. to lease an additional 4.0 miles of rail line that connects with the C&A at Butts, Va., and extends to Chesapeake, Va.

C&A took over operation of the line on January 4. Customers on this line include YUPO Corp, Port Norfolk Warehouse, Moore’s Lumber, Daiei Paper and Lowe’s Contractors Warehouse. C&A stated it anticipates converting the equivalent of several thousand truckloads of freight to rail over the next few years.


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AAR’s freight traffic report

Intermodal traffic is up, but carloads are down

Intermodal traffic on U.S. railroads was up, but carload freight was down during the week ended January 11, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported on Thursday (January 16).

Intermodal volume for the week totaled 186,604 trailers and containers, up 9.4 percent from the comparable 2002 week. Container traffic was up 13.5 percent, while trailer volume was off 1.7 percent.

Carload traffic, which doesn’t include the intermodal data, totaled 327,682 cars, just 0.7 percent below the total for the comparable week last year. Carload volume was off 0.4 percent in the East and 1.0 percent in the West. Total volume was estimated at 29.1 billion ton-miles, down 0.3 percent from 2002.

Sharp increases in comparison with last year were reported in loadings of farm products other than grain, up 61.2 percent; coke, up 31.5 percent; metallic ores, up 11.3 percent; and metals, up 10.2 percent. Seven of 19 carload commodity groups were down in comparison with last year, with grain, grain mill products and primary forest products all down 6.8 percent; and coal off 5.3 percent.

The AAR also reported the following cumulative totals for U.S. railroads during the first two weeks of 2003: 599,276 carloads, up 3.7 percent from last year; intermodal volume of 313,376 trailers and containers, up 9.6 percent; and total volume of an estimated 52.9 billion ton-miles, up 3.7 percent from last year’s first two weeks.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 90 percent of U.S. carload freight and 96 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 96 percent and 100 percent. Railroads provide more than 40 percent of the nation’s intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, and rail traffic figures are regarded as an important economic indicator.

Intermodal freight was up but carload traffic was down on Canadian railroads during the week ended January 11. Intermodal traffic totaled 42,131 trailers and containers, up 20.3 percent from last year. Carload volume of 63,242 cars was down 2.2 percent from the comparable week last year.

Cumulative originations for the first two weeks of 2003 on the Canadian railroads totaled 108,336 carloads, down 2.2 percent from last year, and 70,806 trailers and containers, up 21.2 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first two weeks of 2003 on 16 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 707,612 carloads, up 2.8 percent from last year and 384,182 trailers and containers, up 11.5 percent from last year.

The AAR also reported that carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended January 11 totaled 8,864 cars originated, up 7.1 percent from last year. TFM reported originated intermodal volume of 3,216 trailers or containers, up 271.8 percent from the second week of 2002.

For the first two weeks of 2003, TFM reported cumulative volume of 15,540 cars, up 9.8 percent from last year, and 4,799 trailers or containers, up 23.8 percent.

AAR is the world’s leading railroad policy, research and technology organization focusing on the safety and productivity of rail carriers.


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ACROSS THE POND...

EU lawmakers want rail monopolies to end

The European Union Parliament on January 14 called for European Union governments to end their prized national rail monopolies by 2008 and open up freight and passenger service to competition.

In giving preliminary approval to four proposals, the 626-member European Parliament called for freight rail traffic to be opened up to competition by 2006, two years ahead of a previous proposal made by the EU’s executive office in Strasbourg, France.

The parliament also voted to liberalize international passenger traffic by 2006 and domestic traffic by 2008 The AP reported.

The package, however, still faces several rounds of study and revision by EU transport ministers and the European Parliament before final passage.

France, Belgium and Luxembourg have already made it known they oppose the plans, fearing labor unrest by their powerful railworkers’ unions.

Backers of the reform, however, argue the current national rail systems need to be opened up to do away with long delays and inefficiency, which, they say, has plagued European railways for decades.

Freight rail shippers find it hard to move between EU countries because of different national electricity, signaling and tunnel clearance standards, not to mention different track widths between several EU countries. The proposed package would harmonize standards, safety rules and set up an EU railway agency to oversee cooperation.

EU Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio argues the reforms are long overdue, saying the EU was facing an “alarming picture” in rail transport, with deteriorating services.

Rail’s share of the freight market has dropped to 8 percent in 1999 from 15 percent in 1980.

Germany, Denmark, Britain and Sweden are the only EU nations to have already opened up their rail sectors to competition. Transport ministers will discuss the package March 27.


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COMMENTARY...  Commentary...

A victory for Senator McCain

By Jim RePass
NCI CEO

The Senate’s vote late on January 16 restoring full funding for Amtrak marks a significant turn of events for the long-suffering national passenger rail system, which, since its creation in 1970 by Congress, has never received even a fraction of the capital needed to build and sustain a functioning national network.

But this is about more than just a single vote, which now puts the question of full-funding before a House-Senate conference committee -– the Senate’s action is significant because even Amtrak critics, such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), recognized in the debate that the nation must either fund Amtrak sufficiently to operate it as a system – as opposed to a series of intertwining political deals – or shut it down.

Sen. Patty Murray’s (D-Wash.) amendment to the omnibus appropriations bill, to restore Amtrak to $1.2 billion in funding for Fiscal Year 2002-2003, which passed by voice vote with very broad and deep support, marks the first time in many years that a roll-call vote was not needed to determine the winning position in the often-contentious Amtrak debate. Support from key Republican Senators such as Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) was crucial to the outcome.

One key element of Thursday’s debate, and passage, was that both Amtrak critics, and Amtrak supporters such as Joe Biden and Tom Carper, both Delaware Democrats, were in clear agreement that the time has come to decide whether we should have a national passenger rail system, and how we should fund it, once and for all. That decision will be taken up when the debate on TEA-21 reauthorization begins in earnest this spring.

In the meantime, we appear to be moving towards a real breakthrough on Amtrak’s future. Amtrak President David Gunn – by strong management, new accounting transparency, and a refusal to make political deals – has started the reform process that Senator McCain has long demanded... and that makes not only Amtrak, but Senator McCain as well, the winner in this round.


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LETTERS...

Dear Editor:

Daniel Machalaba’s rehash of year-old Amtrak “per passenger loss” data (Wall Street Journal, January 16) is nothing more than strategically-timed cheerleading for the simplistic notion that “profit and loss” is a valid measure of the utility of long-distance passenger trains, even though other passenger transport is not measured that way.

First, the numbers include all costs but only passenger revenue on trains that contributed substantial mail and express dollars to the bottom line. Machalaba is savvy enough to know this, but chooses not to report it because it interferes with the case he tries to make.

Second, a graphic showing declining ridership notes that the Texas Eagle’s “on time performance has slipped” without any mention that the Union Pacific, on whose track it operates (over most of the train’s route), systematically added multiple hours of delay to favor its freight traffic during a time when Amtrak management under former president George Warrington was ignoring the long-distance network. The delays were not Amtrak’s fault.

Third, exactly what is the loss per passenger on the Staten Island Ferry? 100 percent – because the riders don’t pay anything; but the ferry contributes utility.

So does the intercity rail network.

In the Northeast Corridor, which Machalaba has reported on in depth, billions of infrastructure cost dollars are needed to provide top speeds of 110 to 150 mph, which increase utility, but that doesn’t mean trains that don’t go as fast because there are no special infrastructure improvements a) have no utility or suddenly need to be measured by “profit and loss.”

To dismiss trains like the Texas Eagle and others like it as a “political train” as Machalaba does is the kind of fraudulent, sound bite reporting that does nothing to advance public knowledge of transportation economics at a time when the surface transportation authorization debate is heating up.

In fact, the operating ratio on the entire Amtrak network is much better than many transit systems “farebox recovery,” the measure of utility used elsewhere.

I’ve been in Mineola, Tex., too. And you know what? The bus stops on the outskirts of town and Dallas’ Love Field and DFW airports are over an hour away.

Bob Johnston
Chicago

Mr. Johnston has been a correspondent for Trains Magazine for 11 years. – Ed.


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MEETINGS...

January 25-29

APTA General Manager’s Seminar

Tampa Marriott Inn

Contact Tom Urban, turban@apta.com


February 9-11

APTA Legal Affairs Seminar

Savannah Marriott Riverfront
Savannah, Ga.

Contact: Kristen O’Grady, kogrady@apta.com


April 28, 29

The National Corridors Initiative 2003 conference.

“Rail Futures: Building Secure and Successful Transit
and Intercity Rail for America.”

Washington Marriott
1221 22nd St., NW, in Washington D.C.

U.S. $475 (corporate); U.S. $375 (government); and U.S. $350 (non-profit, union).

Checks should be payable to NCI, Inc. 35 Terminal Rd., Suite 210, Providence R.I. 02905.

Arrange hotel accommodations at special low conference rates directly with the Washington Marriott 202-872-1500 fax 202-872-9899 and mention The National Corridors Initiative.

Additional details to be announced.


Looking Ahead

June 4-9

APTA International Rail Rodeo

San Jose, Calif.
Hotel to be announced

Contact Anitha Tharapatla, atharapatla@apta.com


June 8-12, 2003

APTA Rail Transit Conference

Fairmont Hotel
San Jose, Calif.

Contact Heather Rachels, hrachels@apta.com.


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THE WAY WE WERE...

DeWitt Yards, NY

NCI: Leo King

In 1974, the short-lived Penn Central Transportation Co. served Syracuse, N.Y. from DeWitt Yard in central New York State. Its black engines were perfecto fodder for nighttime photos – if the photog was in a well-lighted place, like the engine terminal. In terms of history, the New York Central preceded it in central New York, and Conrail followed it.

End Notes...

We try to be accurate in the stories we write, but even seasoned pros err occasionally. If you read something you know to be amiss, or if you have a question about a topic, we'd like to hear from you. Please e-mail the crew at leoking@nationalcorridors.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write.

Destination: Freedom is partially funded by the Surdna Foundation, and other contributors.

Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images that appear in Destination: Freedom may do so at a nominal fee of $10.00 per image. "True color" .jpg images average 1.7MB each, and are 300 dots-per-inch for print publishers.

In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we have added a page featuring links to other rail travel sites. We hope to provide links to those cities or states that are working on rail transportation initiatives - state DOTs, legislators, governor's offices, and transportation professionals - as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists.

If you have a favorite rail link, please send the uniform resource locator address (URL) to the webmaster in care of this web site. An e-mail link appears at the bottom of the NCI web site pages to get in touch with D. M. Kirkpatrick, NCI's webmaster in Boston.


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